Insight Meditation Online

Vipassana Meditation Exercises by Mahasi Sayadaw

Part 2 - Progressive Practice

When as mentioned above, by dint of diligent practice, mindfulness and concentration have improved, the meditator will notice the pairwise occurrence of an object and the knowing of it, such as the rising and awareness of it, the falling and awareness of it, sitting and awareness of it, bending and awareness of it, stretching and awareness of it, lifting and awareness of it, putting down and awareness of it. Through concentration attention (mindfulness) he knows how to distinguish each bodily and mental process: “The rising movement is one process; the knowing of it is another.” He realises that each act of knowing has the nature of “going towards an object.” Such a realisation refers to the characteristic function of the mind as inclining towards an object, or cognising an object. One should know that the more clearly a material object is noticed, the clearer becomes the mental process of knowing it. This fact is stated in the Visuddhimagga (Path of Purificiation):

“For in proportion as materiality becomes quite definite, disentangled and quite clear to him, so the immaterial states that have that materiality as their object become plain of themselves too.” (‘The Path of Purification’, translated by Bhikkhu Ñanamoli).

When the meditator comes to know the difference between a bodily process and a mental process, should he be a simple man, he would reflect from direct experience thus: “There is the rising and the knowing it; the falling and knowing it, and so on and so forth. There is nothing else besides them. The words ‘man’ or ‘woman’ refer to the same process; there is no ‘person’ or ‘soul’.” Should he be a well-informed man, he would reflect from direct knowledge of the difference between a material process as object and a mental process of knowing it, thus: “It is true that there are only body and mind. Besides them there are no such entities as man or woman. While contemplating one notices a material process as object and a mental process of knowing it; and it is to that pair alone that the terms of conventional usage ‘being’, ‘person’ or ‘soul’, ‘man’ or ‘woman’ refer. But apart from that dual process there is no separate person or being, I or another, man or woman.” When such reflections occur, the meditator must note “reflecting, reflecting” and go on observing the rising of the abdomen, and its falling.

With further progress in meditation, the conscious state of an intention is evident before a bodily movement occurs. The meditator first notices that intention. Though at the start of his practice, he does notice “intending, intending” (for instance, to bend an arm), yet he cannot notice that state of consciousness distinctly. Now, at this more advanced stage, he clearly notices the consciousness consisting of the intention to bend. So he notices first the conscious state of an intention to make a bodily movement; then he notices the particular bodily movement. At the beginning, because of omission to notice an intention, he thinks that bodily movement is quicker than to the mind knowing it. Now, at this advanced stage, mind appears to be the forerunner. The meditator readily notices the intention of bending, stretching, sitting, standing, going, and so on. He also clearly notices the actual bending, stretching, etc. So he realises the fact that mind knowing a bodily process is quicker than the material process. He experiences directly that a bodily process takes place after a preceding intention. Again he knows from direct experience that the intensity of heat or cold increases while he is noticing “hot, hot” or “cold, cold.” In contemplating regular and spontaneous bodily movements such as the rising and falling of the abdomen, he notices one after another continuously. He also notices the arising in him of mental images such as the Buddha or an Arahat, as well as any kind of sensation that arises in his body (such as itch, ache, heat), with attention directed on the particular spot where the sensation occurs. One sensation has hardly disappeared, then another arises, and he notices them all accordingly. While noticing every object as it arises he is aware that a mental process of knowing depends on an object. Sometimes, the rising and falling of the abdomen is so faint that he finds nothing to notice. Then, it occurs to him that there can be no knowing without an object. When no noticing of the “rising and falling” is possible one should be aware of “sitting and touching” or “lying and touching”. Touching is to be noticed alternatively. For example, after noticing “sitting,” notice the touch sensation at the right foot (caused by its contact with the ground or seat). Then, after noticing “sitting,” notice the touch sensation at the left foot. In the same manner, notice the touch sensation at several places. Again, in noticing seeing, hearing, the meditator comes to know clearly that seeing arises from the contact of eye and visual object and hearing arises from the contact of ear and sound.

Further he reflects: “Material processes of bending, stretching and so on, follow mental processes of intending to bend, stretch and so forth. He goes on to reflect: “One’s body becomes hot or cold because of the element of heat or cold; the body exists on food and nourishment; consciousness arises because there are objects to notice: seeing arises through visual objects; hearing through sounds, and also because there are the sense organs, eye, ear etc., as conditioning factors. Intention and noticing result from previous experiences; feelings (sensations) of all kinds are the consequences of previous kamma in the sense that material processes and mental processes take place ever since birth because of previous kamma. There is nobody to create this body and mind, and all that happens has causal factors.” Such reflections come to the meditator while he is noticing any object as it arises. He does not stop doing so to take time to reflect. While noticing objects as they arise these reflections are so quick that they appear to be automatic. The meditator, then, must note: “Reflecting, reflecting, recognising, recognising,” and continue noticing objects as usual. After having reflected that material processes and mental processes being noticed are conditioned by the previous processes of the same nature, the meditator reflects further that body and mind in the former existences were conditioned by the preceding causes, that in the following existences body and mind will result from the same causes, and apart from this dual process there is no separate ‘being’ or ‘person’, only causes and effects taking place. Such reflections must also be noticed and then contemplation should go on as usual. Such reflections will be many in to the case of persons with a strong intellectual bent and less in the case of those with no such bent. Be that as it may, energetic noticing must be made of all these reflections. Noticing them will result in their reduction to a minimum, allowing insight to progress unimpeded by an excess of such reflections. It should be taken for granted that a minimum of reflections will suffice here.

When concentration is practised in an intensive manner, the meditator may experience almost unbearable sensations, such as itching, aches, heat, dullness and stiffness. If mindful noticing is stopped, such sensations will disappear. When noticing is resumed, they will reappear. Such sensations arise in consequence of the body’s natural sensitivity and are not the symptoms of a disease. If they are noticed with energetic concentration they fade away gradually.

Again, the meditator sometimes sees images of all kinds as if seeing them with his own eyes; for example, the Buddha comes into the scene in glorious radiance; a procession of monks in to the sky; pagodas and images of the Buddha; meeting with beloved ones; trees or woods, hills or mountains, gardens, buildings; finding oneself face to face with bloated dead bodies or skeletons; swelling of one’s body, covered with blood, falling into pieces and reduced to a mere skeleton, seeing in one’s body the entrails and vital organs and even germs; seeing the denizens of the hells and heavens. These are nothing but creatures of one’s imagination sharpened by intense concentration. They are similar to what one comes across in dreams. They are not to be welcomed and enjoyed, nor need one be afraid of them. These objects seen in to the course of contemplation are not real; they are mere images or imaginations, whereas the mind that sees those objects is a reality. But purely mental processes, unconnected with fivefold sense impressions, cannot easily be noticed with sufficient clarity and detail. Hence principal attention should be given to sense objects which can be noticed easily, and to those mental processes which arise in connection with sense perceptions. So whatever object appears, the meditator should notice it, saying mentally, “seeing, seeing” until it disappears. It will either move away, fade away or break asunder. At the outset, this will take several noticings, say about five to ten. But when insight develops, the object will disappear after a couple of noticings. However, if the meditator wishes to enjoy the sight, or to look closely into the matter, or gets scared of it, then it is likely to linger on. If the object be induced deliberately, then through delight it will last a long time. So care must be taken not to think of or incline towards extraneous matters while one’s concentration is good. If such thoughts come in, they must be instantly noticed and dispelled. In the case of some persons they experience no extraordinary objects or feelings and, while contemplating as usual, become lazy. They must notice this laziness thus: “lazy, lazy”, until they overcome it. At this stage, whether or not the meditators come across extraordinary objects or feelings they know clearly the initial, the intermediate and the final phases of every noticing. At the beginning of the practice, while noticing one object, they had to switch onto a different object that arose, but they did not notice clearly the disappearance of the previous object. Now, only after cognising the disappearance of an object, they notice the new object that arises. Thus they have a clear knowledge of the initial, the intermediate and the final phases of the object noticed.

At this stage, when to the meditator becomes more practised, he perceives in every act of noticing that an object appears suddenly and disappears instantly. His perception is so clear that he reflects thus: “All comes to an end; all disappears. Nothing is impermanent; it is truly impermanent.” His reflection is quite in line with what is stated in the Commentary of the Pali Text: “All is impermanent, in the sense of destruction, non-existence after having been.” He reflects further, “It is through ignorance that we enjoy life. But in truth, there is nothing to enjoy. There is a continuous arising and disappearing by which we are harassed ever and anon. This is dreadful indeed. At any moment we may die and everything is sure to come to an end. This universal impermanence is truly frightful and terrible.” His reflection agrees with to the commentarial statement: “What is impermanent is painful, painful in the sense of terror; painful because of oppression by rise and fall.” Again, experiencing severe pains he reflects thus: “All is pain, all is bad.” This reflection agrees with what the Commentary states: “He looks on pain as a barb; as a boil; as a dart.” He further reflects: “This is a mass of suffering, suffering that is unavoidable. Arising and disappearing, it is worthless. One cannot stop its process. It is beyond one’s power. It takes its natural course.” This reflection is quite in agreement with to the Commentary: “What is painful is not self, not self in to the sense of having no core, because there is no exercising of power over it.” The meditator must notice all these reflections and go on contemplating as usual.

Having thus seen to the three characteristics by direct experience, the meditator, by inference from to the direct experience of the objects noticed, comprehends all the objects not yet noticed as being impermanent, subject to suffering, and without a self.

In respect of objects not personally experienced, he concludes: “They too are constituted in the same way: impermanent, painful and without a self.” This is an inference from his present direct experience. Such a comprehension is not clear enough in to the case of one with less intellectual capacity or limited knowledge who pays no attention to a reflection but simply goes on noticing objects. But such a comprehension occurs often to one who yields to reflection, which, in some cases, may occur at every act of noticing. Such excessive reflecting, however, is an impediment to to the progress of insight. Even if no such reflections occur at this stage, comprehension will nevertheless become increasingly clear at the higher stages. Hence, no attention should be given to reflections. While giving more attention to the bare noticing of objects, the meditator must, however, also notice these reflections if they occur, but he should not dwell on them.

After comprehending the three characteristics, the meditator no longer reflects but goes on with noticing those bodily and mental objects which present themselves continuously. Then at the moment when the five mental faculties, namely, faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and knowledge, are properly balanced, the mental process of noticing accelerates as if it becomes uplifted, and the bodily and mental processes to be noticed also arise much quicker. In a moment of inbreathing the rising of the abdomen presents itself in quick succession, and the falling also becomes correspondingly quicker. Quick succession is also evident in to the process of bending and stretching. Slight movements are felt spreading all over the body. In several cases, prickly sensations and itching appear in quick succession momentarily. By and large, these are feelings hard to bear. The meditator cannot possibly keep pace with the quick succession of varied experiences if he attempts to notice them by name. Noticing has here to be done in a general manner, but with mindfulness. At this stage one need not try to notice details of the objects arising in quick succession, but one should notice them generally. If one wishes to name them, a collective designation will be sufficient. If one attempts to follow them in a detailed manner, one will get tired soon. The important thing is to notice clearly and to comprehend what arises. At this stage, the usual contemplation focused on a few selected objects should be set aside and mindful noticing should attend to every object that arises at to the six-sense doors. Only when one is not keen on this sort of noticing, then one should revert to to the usual contemplation.